Students in the dual Spanish and English immersion classroom at Southwest Community Campus School take part in the Young Bankers Club. Courtesy Fifth Third Bank
Principal Carlos de la Barrera said too many programs that teach money basics tend to skip over schools with low-income students.
De la Barrera said this might be due to the assumption resource-constrained students don’t need the training as much as their higher-income peers. He said that couldn’t be more off-base.
“These types of programs are crucial for them,” de la Barrera said. “I think it empowers them, and also, I think it is very important to give them access to these programs because the traditional way of looking at these populations is kind of saying, ‘Well, this is not for them. They don’t have the resources, so no.’ It’s completely opposite. They have the capacity, they’re motivated to learn, and so I think it’s our duty to make that accessible to them.”
That’s why Southwest Community Campus, the K-eighth grade dual Spanish and English immersion school de la Barrera leads, has welcomed a program entering its sixth year in West Michigan — Fifth Third Bank’s Young Bankers Club.
Launched in 2004 by Gail Williams, community engagement and volunteer program officer at the bank’s Cincinnati headquarters, the program spread to West Michigan in 2013 through Grand Rapids Public Schools’ LOOP after-school program, first launching at Campus and Brookside elementary schools.
This year, four GRPS schools are participating — Southwest Community Campus, Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy and Aberdeen, all K-8 schools, as well as Sibley Elementary.
Patrick Lonergan is senior vice president of community and economic development and oversees the Young Bankers Club program for Fifth Third Bank West Michigan.
He said YBC, as it is known, now is being offered in fourth, fifth and sixth grades and meets national and state education standards for mathematics. The program runs two hours per week for 10 weeks.
Beyond basic math, the 88-page curriculum book teaches students how to identify what money is, understand the difference between wants and needs, make basic money calculations, explore various careers and how much income they can generate, learn the basics of the stock market, understand the operations of a bank branch, create budgets and study spending, examine interest rates and the difference between debit and credit cards, practice managing a bank account and learn how to create a business plan for a small business.
Lonergan said the schools Fifth Third targets tend to be diverse and lower income, like Southwest Community Campus. De la Barrera said the school is 84 percent Hispanic, 10 percent African-American and 6 percent other, with 90 percent qualifying for free breakfast and lunch.
During a recent Business Journal visit to Southwest Community Campus, Fifth Third volunteer mentors and LOOP coordinators worked with about 20 students. The bank tries to maintain a 4 to 1 ratio of students to volunteers for the program.
Laura Momber, a financial center manager at Fifth Third’s Michigan and Fuller branch, led the lesson in English and Spanish. She reviewed the previous week’s lesson on what money is and how it is made and gave instructions on the first element of business etiquette — the handshake, accompanied by direct eye contact and a smile.
The students recited the weekly Young Bankers’ Club pledge, in which they committed to fully participate, do the homework, take proper care of their money, think about future goals and have fun in the club.
Momber has been a Young Bankers Club volunteer in various GRPS elementary schools, including Mulick Park, Sibley, Burton and Cesar E. Chavez. Her children attend Southwest Community Campus.
“I’ve been with Fifth Third for almost eight years, and I love giving back to the community with financial education,” Momber said. “It’s my fifth year now, and I love affecting children in a positive way.”
Lonergan said Fifth Third is able to educate about 100 GRPS students per year through YBC.
He said he thinks of the program as a way to reach the “next generation of Fifth Third bankers,” including customers and those with the potential to work in the financial services industry.
With that broad of a scope, the curriculum hits all the high points, Lonergan added.
“One of the exercises they get to do is go on a shopping spree, and you find out what do things cost and what income you have to have to get that and what type of employment/education do you need to get what you want,” he said.
“We look at the impact of higher education on your earnings over time. We’re focusing on college but also post-secondary education, like certificates from GRCC.”
YBC intentionally starts partway through the academic year so students have a chance to get acclimated before adding club attendance. A graduation ceremony is held each year in the first week of December.
This year’s will be at Grand Rapids Community College’s Leslie E. Tassell M-TEC center.
“We want to expose the kids there to higher education and the programs available at CC right now, such as welding and construction,” Lonergan said. “We’ll have a keynote speaker; they will get a certificate of completion and will have parents and teachers there. We’ll also thank our instructors.”
Past speakers at the YBC graduation have included GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and GRCC President Bill Pink.
Lonergan said bolstering the banking and finance talent pipeline is one thought in his mind, but on a more general level, he would like to see “a more informed consumer, someone who understands the role of a financial institution in their life better.”
“From a cultural perspective, not all cultures trust banks,” he said. “It’s getting that to happen because you really do need a bank in your life in the U.S. Saving money in the mattress is not a great idea. I hope we create relationships that (a banker) is someone I can trust.”
YBC also includes a parent education component.
“We have a parents’ night, where we invite the parents and we do financial education for the family,” Lonergan said. “We encourage the kids to talk about what they learn with their parents when they go home.”
The curriculum’s final level addresses the most complex topic: creating a business plan. Lonergan said this is about tapping into unspoken desires students may have, even at a young age, to be involved in business.
“While we might be thinking about post-secondary or college education, for others, it might be ‘I want to start my own business,’” he said. “You still need to have an education, and that starts in school. You need to plant that seed of ‘How I can start my own business,’ as well as planting the seed that you need to go beyond high school.
“So we talk about starting your own business. How would you do it, what does it mean and how it would happen?”